First things first, what on earth is a Waxahacie Swap? I’ll let Rob Neyer explain it:
In case you’re wondering, I call them Waxahachie Swaps because Paul Richards’ (former White Sox skipper who became somewhat famous for the move) nickname was “The Wizard of Waxahachie”; he hailed from Waxahachie, Texas, just outside of Dallas (and home of one of the most striking county courthouses you’ll ever see; hey, that’s another of my favorite things!).
Alas, I can’t take credit for anything except maybe recognizing a great idea when I see one. When I wrote about Piniella’s move in 2009, one of my readers suggested the term (and I’m sorry that I don’t have his name). It’s historical, it’s lyrical, it’s appropriate, and it deserves to live a long and happy life in the august halls and granges of baseball slang.
Because of a paucity of occurrences, and perhaps because Neyer only coined it a few years ago, it’s not seeped into the popular baseball nomenclature like TOOTBLAN or duck snort. But Joe Maddon’s pulled the move a few times this season, once with two different pitchers in the same game. And when Travis Wood went all Little League superstar on the Mariners last night, I felt the desire to add a little more flair to the unorthodox move than simply saying he moved from the mound to left and back again.
Starter Brian Matusz had pitched like you’d expect from his initials and only lasted three innings, allowing 6 runs on 3 home runs. Carl Edwards Jr. came on and struck out 5 while facing the minimum in 2 innings and was then replaced in the 6th by Joe Nathan. The 41-year-old reliever gave up a walk and a double and was lifted with no outs and two men in scoring position. The Cubs had mustered only 2 runs of their own at this point and the situation looked dire.
Enter Travis Wood.
After walking Seth Smith to load the bases, Woodini proceeded to strike out Shawn O’Malley and Leonys Martin before getting the dangerous Robinson Cano to pop out to short. Crisis averted, for now. The Cubs went down quickly in the bottom of the 6th and Pedro Strop came on in relief of Wood, who then shifted to left field, displacing Chris Coghlan. And this wasn’t just a one-batter thing either. With two outs and a man on first, Franklin Gutierrez lifted a fly ball into deep left field and…
Incredible. The sigh of relief from Cubs fans was drowned out by the incredulous reactions from across the country as fans took in the lone Major League contest taking place. But Maddon didn’t feel Wood had Waxahachied quite enough, so he sent his pitcher back out to left to start the 8th inning. Strop stayed in to pitch and got the first two outs of the inning before giving way to Wood, who got Martin into a 2-2 count before picking O’Malley off to end the inning.
In all the Cubs would use five left fielders (Coghlan, Wood, Matt Szczur, Ben Zobrist, and Willson Contreras — which, when’s the last time both a pitcher and catcher both played LF in the same game?) and eventually had to employ two different starting pitchers (Jason Hammel and Jon Lester) as pinch hitters while warming another (John Lackey) in the bullpen. At the time, it was assumed that Wood’s heroics would be relegated to the domain of blooper reels or remember-when conversations.
Then a maligned right fielder smashed a double, advanced on a sac fly, and was pushed home by a bunt from the latter of those pinch-hitting pitchers. What a night. More on the game itself to come, but Travis Wood deserved his own story. When a relief pitcher comes on in the 6th and leaves in the 8th, yet only has 1.1 innings pitched in the box score, you expect that the last of those innings didn’t go so well.
In this case, however, the aplomb and panache Wood displayed over the course of his three-part magic act helped the Cubs pull a rabbit right out of their, er, hat. Yeah, that’s it.